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Asian Cup: Qatar, Japan advance with perfect records

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AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (AP) Qatar finished the group stage of the Asian Cup with a third straight win, beating three-time champion Saudi Arabia 2-0 on Thursday in a highly charged game amid the political tensions between the two nations.

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Saudi Arabia engineered the regional boycott of Qatar along with the host United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. The Qataris have held firm, denying accusations that they support extremists.

Forward Almoez Ali scored both goals, netting the opener at the Zayed Sports City Stadium with a low shot in first-half injury time and heading home the second 10 minutes from time to help his country beat Saudi Arabia at the Asian Cup for the first time and win Group E with nine points.

Just minutes before the first goal, Hasan Al Haydos missed a penalty for Qatar.

Ali, 22, is the top scorer at the tournament with seven goals and will look to extend his tally in the round of 16 against Iraq on Tuesday.

Earlier in Al Ain, four-time champion Japan rallied from a goal down to also finish the group stage with a perfect record after a 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan.

With both teams already qualified, Japan topped Group F with nine points after winning all three games to set up a knockout-stage meeting with Saudi Arabia on Monday.

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Uzbekistan finished second with six points and will open the round of 16 against defending champion Australia.

Oman finished third with three points after beating Turkmenistan 3-1 to secure a spot in the knockout stage for the first time. It will play Group D winner Iran on Sunday.

In Group E In Sharjah, Lebanon got its first win, 4-0 against North Korea and both teams are eliminated.

After Japan routed Uzbekistan in their last two Asian Cup games, 4-0 in 1996 and 8-1 in 2000, it looked like a different story on Thursday in Al Ain when Eldor Shomurodov put Uzbekistan 1-0 ahead five minutes before the interval with his fourth goal of the tournament.

But Yoshinori Muto canceled out that advantage with a header just three minutes later and Tsukasa Shiotani scored the winner in the second half to complete the comeback.

In Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, Muhsen Al Ghassani and Mohammed Al-Musallami scored for Oman in the second half as the team took its first three points of the tournament.

Ahmed Al Mahaijri had put Oman ahead with a free kick 20 minutes into the game before Altymyrat Annadurdyyev equalized later in the first half.

Asian Cup wrap: Japan survives, Qatar wins

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In Asian Cup action earlier today, Group F got its group stage play under way, as one of the favorites was forced to hold on at the end.

Japan took on Turkmenistan in Abu Dhabi, and it was quite the wire-to-wire scare for one of the stronger teams in the field. Turkmenistan went in front on the game’s opening goal just before the half-hour mark as Arslanmurat Amanov unleashed a beautiful strike from outside the box.

It was Turkmenistan’s lead into halftime, but it wouldn’t last long out of the break as Werder Bremen striker Yuya Osako first brought Japan level in the 56th minute with a great move in the box before a tap-in four minutes later put them 2-1 in front. 20-year-old Ritsu Doan picked up the eventual winner, scoring in the 71st minute on a big deflection to put Japan up 3-1.

That would prove vital, as Turkmenistan halved the deficit through a penalty converted by 34-year-old Ahmet Atayev with just 11 minutes remaining, and while they fought for an equalizer, Japan held them off through the final whistle.

The three points would bring Japan level with Uzbekistan atop Group F, with Uzbekistan winning 2-1 over Oman on goals from Ahmedov Ofil and Eldor Shomurodov, with the latter’s winner coming in the 85th minute on a close-range effort inside the near-post that Oman goalkeeper Faiz Al-Rushaidi will want to have back.

Finally, Qatar put itself in a good early position with a 2-0 win over Lebanon on second-half goals from Bassam Hisham and Moez Ali. Hisham’s 65th minute strike came on a well-struck free-kick from just outside the top of the box, while Ali added on in the 79th minute with an open-net tap-in after pouncing on a save forced by Abdelaziz Hatim.

Keisuka Honda’s new gigs for club… and country?

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Keisuke Honda is a busy man.

A living legend of Japanese soccer at 32, Honda has a new club in Australia’s Melbourne Victory.

He’s also the coach and general manager of the Cambodian national team.

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Wait, what now?

Honda retired from international football following the 2018 World Cup, leaving a legacy of 32 international goals in just under 100 caps.

That includes goals in three separate World Cups, which would be enough to brand him an international hero even were he not to carry with him silverware from stints at AC Milan and CSKA Moscow.

So when he left Japan and most recent team Pachuca to sign for new gigs in Australia and Cambodia, it raised more than a few eyebrows. From the AP:

Honda said he and Cambodia’s football association have talked about “how we make Cambodian players grow up for the future,” so he is focusing on how he can raise them to “a good level.” He said he was confident because “they have huge potential.”

“We have trained a very good lot the last couple of days,” he said. “I already found a lot of good players and experienced players and young players.”

Cambodia is ranked 170th in the world by FIFA, and plays its first match under Honda on Sunday against Malaysia. The Malaysians are ranked 171, so watch for the upset, Keisuke.

Cambodia has won just twice since the start of 2017, only defeating Afghanistan and Laos, while losing by five-or-more in three of their 10 losses. All of their players save Thierry Chantha Bin play domestically, and Bin plays in Malaysia.

Plenty of work for Honda. We’ll be watching, and at the very least Honda should be able to open doors abroad for his new charges.

Andres Iniesta keeps scoring for new club Vissel Kobe

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Andres Iniesta’s departure from long-time club Barcelona is still taking some getting used to for those in Spain, however, the former Catalan midfielder seems to be adjusting just fine in his new life in Japan.

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Iniesta made his debut for J-League side Vissel Kobe last week, which fittingly resulted with a victory and a goal of epic proportions from the Spain international.

His second time out on the pitch resulted in a similar outcome; with a goal that brought the Vissel Kobe supporters to their feet (watch below).

WATCH: Iniesta’s sensational turn leads to Vissel Kobe goal

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And now we take a quick trip to Japan, where Andres Iniesta is developing his wine business and OH… MY… GOODNESS.

The Barcelona legend, 34, scored a wonderful goal off a silky turn for his new club Vissel Kobe on Saturday.

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Iniesta starts the play at midfield and then runs 50 yards seemingly unnoticed to get on the end of a terrific ball.

He then turns it with barely a touch, spinning to work his way into a familiar scoring position.

Wow.